Consul promotes Kenya's rich blend

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 January, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 January, 2004, 12:00am

Hong Kong travellers are being lured by the attractions of the east African nation

Patrick Tam Wing-kun grins as he poses next to a painting of African wildlife.

As the assembly of lions, elephants and other animals gazes expectantly from behind him, he remarks: 'I always say, if the animals can live in harmony, then why can't we?'

If lions are the model of harmony, then Dr Tam is their enthusiastic missionary. He is also hoping to bring nature-starved Hong Kong people closer to real lions in Africa.

Dr Tam has been made Kenya's first honorary consul in Hong Kong and his job is to promote the East African nation in the city and also in Macau.

More than 4,000 Hong Kong tourists have flown to Kenya since Kenya Airways relaunched a direct flight three times a week in September. When the service was last available in 1977, only 2,000 to 3,000 passengers flew to Nairobi every year, says Dr Tam.

'We are expecting to have more over the next year. All the flights are fully booked over the Lunar New Year. A lot of Hong Kong people are joining tour groups over there,' he said.

Dr Tam says a recent local radio survey showed that middle-class Hong Kong people consider Kenya their most preferred destination.

'We feel so excited because - especially after Sars - a lot of Hong Kong people feel that it's time for them to get some fresh air.'

Dr Tam said in the past Hong Kong travellers would go to big cities and stay in leading hotels. 'Now they want to go to a place where they can really relax. This is what we call 'spiritual satisfaction', which outweighs 'practical satisfaction',' he said.

He says he also feels a spiritual kinship to Africa. 'I know that many years ago, my ancestors were born in Africa. I was told by some historians that all mankind came from Africa ... I like the people, and I like Kenya.'

Dr Tam has long experience of working in the airline industry and is still general sales agent for Kenya Airways.

'The Kenyan government is moving its focus to the east. In the past, Kenya was a travel paradise for westerners. Asia will be a new market for [the government] - that's why it is putting more effort into this region.'

Kenya is also planning to step up exports of fresh seafood, flowers and coffee to Hong Kong, Dr Tam said.

'Hong Kong people love seafood and Kenya produces a lot of seafood - lobsters, fish and so on - but surprisingly, a lot of Kenyans do not eat seafood. They prefer lake fish. And exporting flowers directly to Hong Kong without going through Amsterdam takes one day off their delivery time, so they're fresher,' he says.

Dr Tam's new position coincides with growing international co-operation between Africa and China. Beijing gave Kenya and seven other African countries approved-destination status during the Forum on China-Africa Co-operation last month.

Kenya has had an embassy in Beijing since the early 1970s.